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NFL Week 16: Packers, Cardinals play for postseason position

A possible second-round playoff matchup is the NFL’s gift to fans this holiday weekend as Green Bay travels to Arizona.

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    Arizona Cardinals' Carson Palmer passes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Philadelphia.
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Even though both the Cardinals and the Packers have clinched NFC playoff berths, there is still plenty left to play for in Week 16 of the NFL season. Arizona has locked up the NFC West Division en route to a 12-2 record, but want to guarantee a first-round bye and can do so with a win. Meanwhile, Green Bay has a spot in the playoffs, but are setting their sights on a NFC North Division title and a home playoff game. The team must beat Arizona to maintain their lead over the Vikings and hope for a Vikings loss. In short, much to gain and much to lose for these two squads.

Many were writing off the Packers only a few weeks ago as they lost a home game to the Bears and followed it up with a miracle win in Detroit. Despite winning three in a row, the offense has looked anything but convincing, with Rodgers often willing his team to victories in close games.

The typically prolific quarterback is on pace to throw for his fewest yards per game and his lowest completion percentage of his sterling career. He has been sacked 33 times this season, already more than the 28 he was sacked all of last year and has been feeling the loss of big-play wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Luckily, the quarterback has remained mistake-free, with only a 1.2 percent interception rate and that has helped the team stay in some low-scoring contests.

Rodgers's struggles and his offensive line’s ineffectiveness has the offense ranked 20th in total yards and 19th in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), according to FootballOutsiders.com. The defense has been able to pick up some of the slack, especially the pass defense, which is ranked 8th in DVOA and allows only 235.1 yards per game and a 79.9 opposing Quarterback Rating (QBR).

The defense will need to be strong against Arizona, which is arguably the best all-around team in the NFL this season. Outsiders rank the Cardinals third in both offensive and defensive DVOA, and their defense is a handful against the run and the pass. The team allows the fourth fewest rushing yards per game, 86.7, while simultaneously limiting opponent quarterbacks to a 79.2 QBR.

The leader of the secondary, Patrick Peterson, is having his best season as a pro and has elevated the unit from good to great. According to Pro Football Focus, the 5th year cornerback has allowed the second fewest yards to quarterbacks among all full-time starters. Quarterbacks have only a 57.6 Quarterback Rating against Peterson, and 8 times he has allowed two or fewer catches. Amazingly, four times Peterson has given up zero yards or fewer to the wide receivers he has matched up against.

Arizona’s defensive coordinator James Bettcher believes Peterson should get more consideration this season for his stellar play. ““I’m telling you what I believe and what I feel: He’s doing special things,” Bettcher told AZCardinals.com. “Watch the tape. People aren’t catching the ball on him. Put him on the best receiver every week, or the guy they target the most, whether it is in the slot or outside, whatever it is, he’s special.”

On offense, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is making a case for himself as league MVP. The veteran is third in passing yards with 4,277 and is first in yards per attempt, yards per completion, and QBR. The advanced metrics seem to back Palmer as well, and Football Outsiders has him well atop the list in DYAR, a value given to the quarterback's performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage.

On the road in Arizona, this matchup will be a lot for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense to handle. Randall Cobb, who excelled in the slot, is having trouble as the number one option and Patrick Peterson is as hard as it gets when it comes to matchups. Rodgers will see very little time in the pocket as well against the pass rush, and his running game may not be able to bail him out. Green Bay’s best chance is to slow down Palmer, keep the game close and hope Rodgers can pull out another tight one.

You can watch the Cardinals and Packers on Fox, beginning at 4:25 p.m. Eastern time Sunday.

 
 
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